Column by Gary Church: When it comes to fruit trees, this one's just peachy

When growing peaches, it's important to let the sunshine in.

Growing up on the West Side, I remember that we only had one fruit tree in the backyard.

For some reason, my dad decided to grow a peach tree. The reason why this tree is so memorable to me is this was the tree of choice for my mother to get a switch from to beat me to death. Plus, it was the only tree where she could reach the branches.

Regardless of this, I don't mind peaches, but I never eat one. I always enjoy going to restaurants where Christian the chef is in charge because he makes the best peachy chicken.

Should you have the urge to grow your own peach tree, and have your own source of unlimited switches, they are fairly easy to grow.

Most peach trees are self fertile. This means you only need one tree, but having two may increase your fruit production.

They need to be planted where they will get at least six to eight hours of sun, so keep them away from other trees that may block the sun's rays.

Standard fruit trees grow 20 feet tall, but semi dwarf only get to a height of 15 feet. If you aren't tall enough to reach up 20 feet to pick the peaches, try the smaller varieties. On a standard variety you should be able to pick three to six bushels of fruit, but only one to three bushels on the smaller ones. I think my dad picked about a dozen, at most.

His method back in the '50s was to dig a hole and put the tree in it. Things may have gotten a little more technical since then.

After planting the tree, it may take two to four years to blossom and produce fruit. There's no need to plan on making a peach pie any sooner than that.

Pruning is a very important part of growing a peach tree. You want it to be open in the center to let the sun shine in. Yes, I know all the words to "Let the Sunshine In" and can sing it on request, accompanied with my accordion of course.

The first year, prune the central leader, leaving three or four branches, about 18 inches from the ground. Then prune those branches back a third of their length.

When the plant is mature, you need to prune back last year's stems to half of their length.

Now that you have your first large crop of peaches, they need to be thinned. Remove the clusters so that there is one peach 6 to 8 inches apart.

A fertilizer with a high nitrogen rate is recommended when trees start bearing. Do not fertilize after July 1.

Spraying is going to be a pain, but Bonide Fruit Tree Spray sprayed before bud break, and again after the petals fall off, will help.

Caterpillars enjoy making nests in trees. There are two types to look for. The fall webworms makes their nests at the ends of the branches. Eastern tent caterpillars prefer the crotch of the branch for their home.

Eastern tent caterpillar season is over, but the fall webworm one is now approaching. Spraying with Bt or Sevin will kill the worms. Just do it in the morning while they are still sleeping and not out shopping yet. Evening is also a good time.

At last, it is time to pick the peach. Smell it first. If it smells like a peach, it is probably ready to pick. It should have a soft skin. Pick one and sample it, before you remove all the peaches, just to make sure they are ripe.

Thinking back, I can't fathom what an angel of a child I was that I had to be corrected. I didn't get punished for eating the plaster out of the kitchen wall, nor using all of the hat boxes for a drum set. I never said a bad word. I'm just glad I turned out normal.

Make your space a green space.

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